In a story in Agnes Chew’s impressive debut collection, Eternal Summer of My Homeland, a Singaporean woman named Nadine gets to know a German man and speaks to him about love, mortality, and philosophy. Mortality seems to be a theme throughout the collection of stories about regular people in Singapore. There’s nothing Crazy Rich about them, which perhaps is why they place so much thought on the decisions they make.
Assam, which shares borders with Bhutan, Bangladesh and used to border Myanmar and China, is the largest state in India’s volatile Northeast region. Many of the Indian states that now border Assam; Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, were all carved out of Assam’s territory post-Independence following fierce political battles for representation and autonomy. Therefore a study of Assam is vital not just for understanding events in one of India’s most geopolitical important regions, but for understanding wider South Asia politics.
In 1868, as now, the Middle East seemed to be a place where fortunes could be made from the region’s mineral resources and from its central location between Europe and India. The Persian empire was slowly recovering from decades of invasion, civil war, banditry, and plagues. A new monarch, Naseroddin Shah, made a good impression in the capitals of Europe, which he visited frequently beginning in 1873. Yet “the well-protected realm” remained mysterious. A lack of information about its people and geography challenged international investors, who still relied on John Chardin’s accounts of 150 years earlier. They were greedy for up-to-date insights into the country. Albert Houtum Schindler was their providential man.
Chinese Jewish connections go back a millennium, probably first during the Song dynasty when Persian Jewish traders traveled along the Silk Road and reached ancient Kaifeng, as Erica Lyons writes in her author’s note at the end of her new picture book, Zhen Yu and the Snake, illustrated by Reina Metallinou.
If one thought, as I admit I did, that a book with “Silk” and “History” in its title would be (yet another) about China and the Silk Road, one will soon be disabused. Aarathi Prasad, a biologist and science writer, opens with the Lepidoptera floors at London’s Natural History museum. Silk, argues Prasad, has a much more complicated story that the conventional one of China and the Chinese silkworm Bombyx mori: “there is not just one silk, there is not just one story of silk. Not one road, one people who found it, nor who made it.” Indeed, some of the earliest silk cocoons ever found, from Xiyin Cun some two hundred kilometres west of Shuanghuaishu and dating from 3500 BCE, aren’t Bombyx mori at all.
Writers responded to the triple disasters of 11 March 2011 with a new genre of Japanese literature: shinsai bungaku or “earthquake literature”. Almost 13 years later, it’s easy to forget just how terrible 11 March 2011 really was. The Great East Japan Earthquake triggered a tsunami that may have reached heights up to 40 meters. It rushed as far as 10 kilometers inland at the speed of a passenger jet at cruising altitude. It caused massive destruction along more than 400 kilometers of Japan’s eastern coast, wiping away coastal towns in minutes.
Nod Ghosh begins her new novella, The Two-Tailed Snake, with some wise words from the perspective of a snake.